Making learning fit

People lead increasingly busy lives. With work, family, household maintenance, and a dozen other things, our schedules tend to fill up. In this context, it’s difficult to find time to engage our need for life-long learning. At the end of a day or week of work, it can seem overwhelming to sit for a course. The hours required can be hard to fit into a schedule. But the fact is, there is always time left in the schedule. The challenge is that we need to be creative in getting learning to fit into the schedule.

I’m reminded of an old story that you see every once in a while on Facebook or other social media. I don’t recall the exact context, but it involved a teacher making a demonstration trying to fill a jar. He started with marbles, “filling” the jar to the top until no more marbles would fit. Is the jar “full?” No. There’s plenty of space, just no more marble sized pockets.

So the teacher continues with some small beads. You pour them into the jar, and they settle into much of the spaces between the marbles. The teacher does that until the beads are level with the top of the jar. Is it full yet? No. The teacher proceeds to add sand to the jar. The sand settles into the tinier spaces between the beads.

Finally, the teacher completes the demonstration by pouring water into the jar.

So this is a nice story. What can we take from it?

Well, the fact of the matter is that we probably have hours of time each week that could be used for learning. The problem is the time is split up into little pieces between other things, 5 minutes here, 10 minutes there. As well, there are chunks of time in contexts that would not traditionally have been thought of as opportunities to access training material, for example, sitting on the couch in front of the living room TV, out walking in the street, or driving in the car.

As training designers and developers, we can direct our efforts in two major directions:

  1. Making training in smaller, bite sized chunks that will fit in easily and conveniently in spare cycles between other things
  2. Making training that can be readily accessed in non-traditional learning environments/media, including:
    a. Living room via smart TV and/or internet connected entertainment system such as a modern game system like the Xbox One or PS4
    b. Through an in-car entertainment system
    c. Through wearable computers and augmented reality

This leads to some challenges for us as designers and developers.

The first challenge requires us to think hard about how to break down training into small, focused, self-contained learning pieces that are well-indexed and findable. These will often be accessed individually as informal learning materials. Though it may be possible to prompt learners with suggestions about connected content they might find useful, depending on the Learning Management System through which users browse content.

The second challenge requires us to learn about the tools needed to develop for these other platforms, as well as the unique affordances involved in terms of interaction and navigation of the platforms.
Some of these points I have touched on previously in posts here. The others I hope to speak about in more depth in the weeks to come.